Phillies set lineup; no Paulino


BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates have not yet posted their lineup for tomorrow’s spring training opener against the Phightin’ Phils, but Philly Daily News beat writer David Murphy has dug up his team’s batting order:

1. Jimmy Rollins, ss; 2. Shane Victorino, cf; 3. Raul Ibanez, lf; 4. Ryan Howard, 1b; 5. Geoff Jenkins, rf; 6. Matt Stairs, dh; 7. Jason Donald, 2b; 8. Eric Bruntlett, 3b; Chris Coste, c

Chase Utley, Pedro Feliz and Jayson Werth will not make the trip. No word on whether Ronny Paulino, who’s fighting for a backup job at catcher, will play.

Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton, Joe Bisunius, Scott Nestor, Joe Borkowski and Mike Koplove and Jake Woods are slated to pitch.

The Pirates are scheduled to use eight right-handed pitchers. The first six batters in Philly’s lineup are lefties. Could be interesting if the wind’s gusting out of McKechnie Field.


Luis Cruz injures hip


BRADENTON, Fla. — Backup infielder Luis Cruz sustained a strained left hip flexor during the first hour of today’s final workout at Pirate City. Cruz is expected to be out up to a week.

• Manager John Russell, like the players, is eager to get the Grapefruit League season under way.

“It’s time to take that next step,” Russell said. “We accomplished a lot while we were here. We still have a lot of work to do between now and opening day.”

The Pirates will use nine relievers Wednesday against the Phillies. Russell said the goal in the early batch of spring games is to see pitchers applying what they’ve been taught.

“First-pitch strikes, get ahead, get early out, use the changeup, things like that,” Russell said. “The first outing of spring training sometimes is a little shaky, and we understand that, but the message and the process should be the same.”

Russell pointed out that Ryan Doumit got off to a slow start last spring, but that was no indication of what he’d do in the regular season.

“We want those guys to stay with the process,” Russell said. “We’ll see what we need to see. It’s not always the results. In spring training, the wind blows out really hard and your ERA is 9.00. The same thing goes for a guy who hits .450. You’ve got to see how they did it.”

• Second baseman Freddy Sanchez has been long-tossing from 120 and 150 feet without problems. Sanchez battled shoulder problems much of last season. “Perry (Hill) has been working with Freddy on positioning and how he sets up to throw,” Russell said. “It takes a lot of stress off his arm. It’s made a big difference for him.”

• Tomorrow’s game will be broadcast on WPGB-FM (104.7). It will be the debut of broadcaster Tim Neverett, who was hired in December after Lanny Fratarre’s retirement.

• The Pirates signed free agent infielder Ruben Gotay, who will report to minor league camp. Gotay, who has some experience in the majors, is a good depth acquisition.


Duke ready to go


BRADENTON, Fla. — Zach Duke is scheduled to throw just one inning Friday in his spring training debut. Other candidates for the rotation — Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, Jason Davis, Tom Gorzelanny — will each make two-inning appearances.

However, Duke said there is nothing unusual about his setup and his short initial outing is not due to an injury.

“I’m fine,” Duke said. “The plan is for me to be back up in a couple of days, instead of getting the usual four days’ rest, so it’s just one inning.”

• Lefty Phil Dumatrait (shoulder) threw a 35-pitch bullpen session today and reported no problems. He threw four or five curveballs — the first time that pitch was included in his session — and the rest were fastballs and changeups. Before he’s ready to pitch in a game, though, Dumatrait will have to toss a few more sidelines and live batting practice.

• Third baseman Andy LaRoche (back spasms) was pretty much full-go today. He did all of his usual defensive work and looked fine as he took batting practice in the cage off coach Tom Prince. LaRoche just stood at the plate and tracked pitches instead of swinging at live batting practice from the pitchers.

“If he keeps progressing, then we should be able to get him in (games) a little quicker than we thought,” manager John Russell said. Wednesday’s opener against Philly is out of the question, but LaRoche might be able to play Thursday against the Red Sox.

• Right-hander Brian Slocum has a slight hamstring strain and was not among the 17 pitchers who threw b.p. today. Virgil Vasquez continues to work his way back from arm soreness.

• Other than LaRoche’s back, there have been no serious health issues so far in camp. There has been a small rash of strained quads and the usual assortment of blisters, but no major problems.

• Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel were among a group of minor league players who shagged flies during batting practice. The group included Jamie Romak and other early arrivals for minor league camp.

• The Pirates will leave Pirate City after Tuesday’s workout and move their operations a couple of miles away to McKechnie Field.

• Today is the anniversary of two notable trades in Pirates history. In 1921, the club acquired Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville from Boston in exchange for three players and $15,000.

Maranville played four seasons in Pittsburgh. In 1924, his final season with the Pirates, Maranville hit just .266 with two homers and 71 RBI, yet finished seventh in the MVP voting.

In 2000, the Pirates swapped outfielder Al Martin to San Diego for John Vander Wal and two minor league pitchers who never amounted to anything.


Pitching assignments set


BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates have set their pitching assignments for the first four spring training games.

• Wednesday: Chris Bootcheck, Matt Capps, Donnie Veal, Romulo Sanchez, Ron Uviedo, Juan Mateo, Craig Hansen, Evan Meek and Jesse Chavez will pitch one inning apiece. The Phillies will throw lefty Jamie Moyer and righty Joe Blanton.

• Thursday: Ian Snell (two innings), Ross Ohlendorf (two innings), Jimmy Barthmaier (one inning). The Red Sox will start lefty Jon Lester.

• Friday: Tom Gorzelanny (two innings), Jason Davis (two innings), Zach Duke (one inning), Daniel McCutchen (one inning).

• Saturday: Paul Maholm (two innings), Jeff Karstens (one inning).


LaRoche will miss spring opener


BRADENTON, Fla. — Third baseman Andy LaRoche, who’s resting a sore lower back, will miss Wednesday’s Grapefruit League opener against Philadelphia and likely also the next day’s game against Boston.

“I doubt we’d just throw him out there in the first game after missing a few days,” manager John Russell said this afternoon.

The Pirates had a short workout today — the only on-field work the pitchers did was baserunning — and were off the fields in two hours. LaRoche sat out again, but did field grounders with coaches Perry Hill and Tony Beasley and took 50 swings of soft-toss in the cages.

LaRoche expects to return to action Monday, but might be held out of the live batting practice session.

“I feel good,” LaRoche said. “I tried to talk them into letting me go out there two days ago, but they want to take it slow.”

A couple of years ago, LaRoche was hobbled by a protruding disc. He did not need surgery and the problem went away when LaRoche began a dedicated exercise program.

“My back felt great and this offseason I didn’t really stick with (the exercises) like I should,” LaRoche admitted. “I guess the doctors were right when they said I’ll have to stick with them for the rest of my career.”

LaRoche’s flare-up last week was not severe enough to require an MRI exam. The pain was limited to his lower back, so doctors were reasonably certain there was no nerve involvement.

“The trainers told me I’ll probably have the first two games off,” LaRoche said. “He said, ‘maybe.’ There’s really no rush right now. I’d love to be out there, but it’s really not my choice.”

• The Pirates still plan to use nine relievers (one per inning) and no starters Wednesday against the Phillies.

Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan wants each starter to throw off a mound three times before the games begin.

“Joe has identified 10 starters,” Russell said. “For the first way through, they’ll kind of piggy-back each other. If Paul (Maholm) starts a game, we might piggy-back him with Zach (Duke). If (Ian) Snell starts, we might piggy-back him with (Ross) Ohlendorf. They’ll get their innings and stay on kind of a five-day rotation to start.”

• Even though spring training is a week longer than usual, Russell doesn’t necessarily expect cuts to come later. “We have fewer pitchers (than last year) and we have to cover ourselves,” Russell said. “But once minor league camp starts we can always pull guys off. The biggest thing is, if you’re gonna send a guy out (anyway) are you hindering his development by making him stay? If we know he’s not going to make the club, we’d rather get him on his progression to start his season than just to give us backup.”

• Phil Dumatrait (shoulder) might not be ready to begin the season in the starting rotation. But the Pirates have no plans to convert him to a full-time reliever. “We want to keep Phil stretched out, so we’ll continue to rehab him as a starting pitcher,” Russell said. “We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully, there are no setbacks. We’ll get him going as a starter and see how he progresses.”

• Russell and bench coach Gary Varsho have only begun tinkering lineup ideas for spring training, and not a lot is set in stone yet for the regular season. However, Russell indicated that he doesn’t expect to bat outfielder Nyjer Morgan in the ninth spot. “When we did it last year, we had (Xavier) Nady and (Jason) Bay, some more experienced hitters in the middle of our lineup, and it seemed at times to be a pretty good thing for us. Until we look at the dynamic of our lineup … we have options with the speed, so I don’t know that we’re going to do the pitcher eighth. I don’t think it will be that advantageous for us.”

• All the buzz about Pedro Alvarez has overshadowed another top prospect in camp. “You should watch (Jose) Tabata hit as well,” Russell said. “He’s kind of going under the radar in this camp, but the kid is a special bat, as well. We’re very excited about both of them and they both have done very well.”

• Two of the Pirates’ former top draft picks were in the news last week. Kris Benson’s latest comeback attempt is with the Texas Rangers. He signed a minor league contract. The National Post in Ontario, Canada, ran an article about Bryan Bullington, who is in camp with the Toronto Blue Jays. Bullington had no harsh words for the Pirates — in fact, he is hardly quoted in the story — but he did say his pitching mechanics were out of whack by the time the Pirates released him. “My arm kind of forgot where its natural slot was,” Bullington said. He added that Scott Radinsky, pitching coach for Cleveland’s Triple-A team, straightened him out.

• I’m happy to see my alma mater, North Catholic, has put its girls and boys basketball teams into the WPIAL semifinals. As a Penn State grad, I never really have much reason to follow college hoops. But at least I can enjoy reading the Trib’s on-line updates of high school ball.


Extending Russell is the right move


BRADENTON, Fla. — Behind closed clubhouse doors, manager John Russell is not a screamer when things go wrong.

“So you think,” Russell said, with a wink.

Russell may appear to be stoic, but the players know how much the game means to him. More importantly, they know to listen when he speaks.

“He’s brought a calm demeanor,” second baseman Freddy Sanchez said. “Guys know what he expects and what he wants to get done, and everyone does it. He doesn’t do a lot of talking or yelling. He feels like he doesn’t need to.”

Baseball is game where strange twists and turns — a certain play or event may only happen once or twice a season, or even a decade — are part of the appeal. But Russell is analytical and always well prepared. He rarely is caught off guard by an unexpected situation.

He also studies the players in the clubhouse to get a sense of how they will react.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned through the years is, you’ve got to get to know your players,” Russell said. “I think my staff and myself do a good job, not only knowing what our players are like on the field, but we get to know them as persons. That’s important. It helps us with the daily routines, it helps us going through the season.”

Those are big reasons why GM Neal Huntington didn’t lose any sleep when he decided to pick up Russell’s contract option for 2010, even though the Pirates lost 95 games in the skipper’s debut season.

In the Pirates’ 122-year history, only three of the 38 managers — Fred Clarke (16 seasons), Danny Murtaugh (15 seasons) and Jim Leyland (11 seasons) — have spent more than a decade on the job. Huntington hopes to see more continuity in the future.

“There’s been a lot of change here in the past couple of years,” Huntington said. “We’re excited about the direction we’re going and we feel good about the people who are leading us in that direction. J.R. is a big part of that.”

• There was some frost on the orange groves this morning, as the temperature dipped to 31 degrees overnight. Things heated up to the low 70s by the time the Pirates finished their 2 1/2-hour workout.

• Eight pitchers threw live batting practice. Paul Maholm and Tom Gorzelanny, who led off the session, both seemed sharp. Each pitcher threw two rounds of 14-17 pitches.

• Players worked on rundowns on the two newer fields next to the indoor batting cages. Third baseman Andy LaRoche (back spasms) sat out for the third day in a row.

• This is about the point in spring training when strains, bumps and bruises begin to pop up. That’s why Russell will ease back on the throttle for Sunday’s workout — no pitchers will throw off the mound — then ramp it back up heading into Wednesday’s Grapefruit League opener against the (ugh, it kills me to write this) World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.


Pirates pick up Russell’s option


BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates this morning exercised the 2010 option for manager John Russell.

“J.R. met or exceeded expectations in his first year as the Pirates manager,” GM Neal Huntington said. “His club worked hard to play the game properly and battled from the first out until the last.

“His leadership, knowledge, attention to detail, ability to see the big picture and passion for things being done the right way made him the ideal choice as our manager a year ago and made the decision to pick up his option for 2010 an easy decision.

“I look forward to working closely with him for years to come as we build a consistent championship caliber organization in Pittsburgh.”

Russell, 47, was hired Nov. 5, 2007, as the Pirates’ 38th manager. The Pirates went 67-95 last season.


Price was right for Pedro


BRADENTON, Fla. — Reclining at his locker before the start of a morning workout, Pedro Alvarez was relaxed and personable. He smiled a lot, and there was genuine warmth in his voice.

That changed when the questions turned to his contract dispute last summer.

Alvarez half-turned on his chair and stared at a flat-screen TV mounted on the clubhouse wall. His voice went flat, the words clipped and seemingly rehearsed.

“I’m just glad I’m here right now, and that’s all I can say,” Alvarez said. “I’m going to work my hardest, play to the best of my abilities and let everything take care of itself.”

Alvarez wonders whether fans in Pittsburgh will embrace him once he finally makes it to the majors.

“I’m just eager to show them how hard I play and how dedicated I am to this game,” he said. “They can judge me from that. All I hope for is that they see me for the player I am, the love I have for the game.”

• Alvarez talked glowingly about David Price, the Rays’ highly touted left-hander. Alvarez and Price were teammates at Vanderbilt, and sometimes faced each other in intrasquad games. Who had the upper hand?

“Aaaahh. I’ll plead the Fifth,” Alvarez laughed. “I don’t want to embarrass him.”

Price, speaking from Rays camp, was a bit more eager to talk about his showdowns with Alvarez. But — tease alert! — you’ve gotta buy tomorrow’s Trib (or go online after midnight) to find out what Price thought about facing Alvarez.

• Third basemen Andy LaRoche and Neil Walker were mere spectators at today’s workout. LaRoche sat out for the second straight day after having back spasms Wednesday. Walker was out with a stomach virus.

During fielding drills, Luis Cruz and Ramon Vazquez took balls at third base. Also Eric Hinske did some work at third for the first time this spring. Hinske broke into the majors as a third baseman, but hasn’t played the position regularly since 2004.

• Seventeen pitchers threw live batting practice for the first time this spring. Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan tried to simulate game conditions as much as possible.

The pitchers warmed up in the bullpen before facing batters. When Ian Snell started to jog onto Field 1, Kerrigan put out an arm to stop him. “Don’t hurry,” Kerrigan said. “We’ve still got the National Anthem before the first pitch.”

• Regular batting practice, with coaches lobbing balls to the plate, was held on Fields 3 and 4. “That’s the group I’d want to be in,” prez Frank Coonelly said as he watched Steve Pearce crush a toss from coach Rich Donnelly. “Those guys (on Fields 1 and 2) are throwing hard.”

• The Cleveland Indians designated third baseman Andy Marte for assignment. So far, there are no indications the Pirates will try to acquire him. Once upon a time, the Indians offered to include Marte in a possible deal for outfielder Jason Bay.


LaRoche, Walker on the shelf


BRADENTON, Fla. — Today’s workout will get under way without a pair of third basemen, Andy LaRoche and Neil Walker.

LaRoche is sitting out for the second straight day after having back spasms Wednesday. It’s a smart decision, since temperatures are in the high 50s with a stiff, chilly wind. “I could go today, but they don’t want me to risk it,” LaRoche said. “They told me they want me to on the field in May and June, not February.”

Walker is out with a stomach virus. He might try to do some light stretching later on today.


Coonelly’s speech


BRADENTON, Fla. — Today’s round of workouts at Pirate City was about as mundane as possible. Pitchers worked on pitchouts, as well as the always exciting “sudden-look-at-first-base-and-hold-the-ball-in-the-air” drill. Most of the players were done in about two hours. There were 30 minutes of fundamental instruction — grounders! grounders! grounders! — and then everyone practiced catching pop-ups.

Prez Frank Coonelly addressed the team during a 9:15 a.m. meeting. Owner Bob Nutting also was supposed to attend, but he is ill and remained in Wheeling, W.Va.

Coonelly ran through the areas where he believes the Pirates have made progress since last year — the draft, player development, scouting, international player acquisition, facilities upgrades. He also pointed out that the Tampa Bay Rays were not expected to win last year, yet wound up in the World Series: “The Rays didn’t listen to what they press and pundits were saying. They believed in themselves. I told (the Pirates players) they need to believe in themselves. They need to believe in the teachers we have here. They need to believe in their teammates. Let’s set our own expectation levels, and that level is we’re going to win this year.”

Coonelly told the players he believes the franchise has made a lot of progress in the past year: “We worked hard and I expected to accomplish a lot. I was pleased with what we were able to accomplish. The thing we didn’t accomplish last year was winning at the major league level. At the end of the day, accountability is going to be winning at the major league level. The players understand that and I understand that.”

Shortstop Jack Wilson had an interesting take on what was said at the meeting. But if I gave all that away now, you’d have no reason to pick up the newspaper in the morning, right?

Here’s one snippet from reliever John Grabow: “I think (Coonelly’s speech) was pretty positive. He basically laid out the guidelines of what we need to do, and told us Pittsburgh’s waiting for a winner. We’ve got to go out there and get it done. Looking around, I can see some of the guys have a little more confidence. Guys like Ryan (Doumit) and (Nate) McLouth seem like they have more confidence.”